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Monday, September 7, 2009

You could be biking your way to impotency... Read on

After all, I'd read the research about the damage to our crotches that traditional narrow bicycle saddles can do. We're talking urologist after urologist warning about hard bike riders with soft penises. Men who can often get an erection, but find it goes flat sooner than a tire with two nails.

The clinical observations were so compelling that teams of researchers hooked up oxygen monitors to men's penises and had them ride on normal bike seats. Their findings confirmed the suspicions of urologists which much of the serious bike riding community has been trying to laugh away and deny.

Ever had that tingling feeling between your legs after riding for awhile? Not only do traditional bike saddles crimp the artery that supplies most of the oxygen to the penis, but they also compress the nerves against the pelvic bone for a double whammy. (The docs are divided as to whether there is similar damage to the clitoris and vulva.)

As for the newer seats with cutouts, they appear to make matters even worse, given that they focus the pressure on an even smaller area. And forget gel padding--researchers have found that padding doesn't help. The key is to keep the nose of the seat from pressing against the area between your legs.

Last year, when my daughter became old enough for us to go riding together, I happily got my bike out for the first time in a long time. And then the numbness and tingling began. It was always there when I rode in the past, but this time I knew enough to appreciate that this isn't the way one should treat an innocent crotch--OK, delete the word innocent.

So this past week, when the storms of winter finally gave way to a bit of Spring here in the Northwest, my daughter once again pleaded with me to go riding. But this time, I changed out the traditional saddle on my bike for one of the new no-nose seats called the BiSaddle.

My old seat is on the right, the new BiSaddle on the left. As you can see, with the new seat, there's no nose to crimp the underside of your crotch.

When the new seat arrived, I looked at it and started laughing. Based on the looks of the thing, I was sure I was going from the frying pan into fire. But then I felt something tap me on the shoulder. It was my penis who then whispered in my ear, "Think of all the good times you would have missed out on if you had listened to the voice of reason instead of me--give the new seat a try."

Oh my God, three miles of gravel roads and hills later, and not a bit of numbness or tingling. The next day, we did more than seven miles. And today, even more. As for that no-nose learning curve or break-in period that I'd heard about--I didn't need it. Aside from the usual soreness under your rear when you've not been riding for ages, the seat felt right from the moment I got on it.

In comparing the graphs above, all of the pressure is distributed across the meaty part of your bum when you are sitting in a chair, with no pressure on your crotch. But when you are on a traditional bicycle seat, you are leaning forward and almost all of the pressure is on the base of your penis or vulva, with none of the pressure being shared by the broader back part of your butt [graphs from Shrader et al, citation listed below]. I don't think the red in the crotch area was because the subject was feeling sexually aroused.

In designing the BiSaddle, the makers listened carefully to the police in San Antonio who are on their bikes for ten hours a day. This last week, a member of the infamous Randonneurs completed a 1200 KM ride on the BiSaddle, and I can understand why.

These seats are not cheap, but even the more expensive model that I got ($150) is still less than the cost of a single trip to a urologist, not that there's an easy fix--or any fix--for the kind of damage that the nose of a bicycle seat might do to your crotch if you ride more than a couple of hours a week. The seat I received is made of seven layers of special gasket foam, which is costly to construct, but feels worth it. These seats come with a 90-day money back guarantee.

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